Peyton Manning’s career has been characterized by positive statistics, including a record 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns this season that may earn the Denver Broncos’ quarterback an unprecedented fifth National Football League Most Valuable Player award.
There’s one mark he doesn’t want to tarnish his legacy, however: a 9-11 postseason record. His 11 losses in the playoffs are tied with Brett Favre for the most of any quarterback in league history.
In 12 years of playoff appearances, Manning’s teams have lost their opening game eight times, including last year’s 38-35 double-overtime defeat against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens. That track record of early exits might put more pressure on Manning for the Broncos’ Jan. 12 playoff opener against the San Diego Chargers.
“Peyton is very aware of his legacy,” former quarterback Rich Gannon, the NFL’s 2002 MVP and now a CBS Sports analyst, said in a telephone interview. “He’s driven by a number of internal and external factors, and he wants to be the greatest ever. In doing so, he knows it’s always been about winning.”
The Broncos are in the same position as they were heading into last season’s playoffs.
Denver went 13-3 during the 2012 regular season to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason and a first-round bye before losing to the Ravens as 9 1/2-point favorites. The Broncos this week are favored by the same amount at home against the Chargers after again going 13-3 and capturing the American Football Conference’s top seed.
Manning, 37, said the Broncos have used last year’s playoff loss as motivation all season, not just this week.
“We talked about that going into April, with our weightlifting and our offseason training, about using that to fuel you, to make you do an extra set of sprints or an extra set of squats, whatever it may be,” Manning told reporters this week. “You always want to have something to drive you and make you better than the year before. I feel like we’ve done that and we’re excited to be at this place right now.”
Manning last year was ranked as the eighth-highest paid athlete in the U.S., with $18 million in salary and another $13 million as the NFL’s top endorser, according to Sports Illustrated. He also has a Super Bowl title, winning one with the Indianapolis Colts after the 2006 season, yet has lost his opening game in four of his five postseason appearances since.
Two of those defeats -- in Indianapolis after the 2007 and 2008 seasons -- came against the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers, who has a 6-2 record in Denver during his career.
“You make your money in the regular season,” John Elway, the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations, said last February, a month after the Broncos’ playoff loss. “But you make your legacy in the postseason.”
A Hall of Fame quarterback, Elway had a 14-8 playoff record in his 16-year career, which culminated with Super Bowl titles during his final two seasons.
Elway said this week he sees some similarities between Manning’s first season in Denver and his own 14th with the Broncos, when the team went 13-3 to earn home-field advantage and a first-round bye before losing its first playoff game. Elway was also 37 at the time and helped the Broncos rebound from that disappointment to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
“In looking back at my career and what happened to us in 1996, 1997 and 1998, there are a lot of parallels to it,” said Elway, who had a 7-8 playoff record through his first 14 seasons. “I like the positive comparisons I can make to those years, but that doesn’t win us football games.”
Gannon, who had a 4-3 playoff record, said he doesn’t think Manning will feel an added burden because of his playoff record. Manning’s postseason losses equal the combined total of active quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and his younger brother Eli, who have five Super Bowl wins among them.
“With pressure, there are those who feel it and those who apply it,” Gannon said. “Peyton Manning will apply it from first snap of game. There’s not a quarterback in the league who has as much say in what goes on day to day and with the game plan. He’s been ready for this since last year.”
With a victory this week, the Broncos would advance to the AFC Championship Game at home against the winner of the Jan. 11 divisional matchup between the Colts and New England Patriots, whose own quarterback, Tom Brady, has a record 17 playoff wins.
The Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A second Super Bowl title -- and the three postseason wins that come with it -- would leave Manning with an overall 12-11 playoff record. Only five quarterbacks in the league have more than 12 playoff victories.
“It’s easy to summarize, to take a whole bunch of football seasons and lump them together. I personally don’t believe in that theory, how it works,” Manning said. “Each season takes on its own identity. This is the 2013 season, 2014 postseason, and it’s its own chapter. We’re looking forward to hopefully writing it for a number of more weeks.”